China News Service, Beijing, February 25th

: Title: China-Singapore Figures | "The Richest Man in Cloth Shoes" Zong Qinghou: Lucky to be born in a great era

  Author Zuo Yukun

  On February 25, Wahaha Group officially released an obituary: Comrade Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of Wahaha Group, passed away at 10:30 that day due to ineffective treatment at the age of 79.

  The memorial service will be held at Wahaha Xiasha Base in Hangzhou.

At the end of every year, Wahaha holds a New Year's Eve dinner here, and has done so for more than 30 years.

This year's New Year's Eve dinner was the first time Zong Qinghou, who was already in poor health, was absent.

  As the first batch of private entrepreneurs in my country after the reform and opening up, one of the 100 outstanding private entrepreneurs in the 40 years of reform and opening up, and a benchmark figure among Zhejiang businessmen, Zong Qinghou, the founder of Wahaha who has been listed as the richest man in China several times, has completed his own journey in the early spring. A legendary life.

  Zong Qinghou attributes his and Wahaha's success to the opportunities given by the times. He has said many times: "I am an ordinary person, a mortal who rose from the bottom. Fortunately, I was born in this great era."

  Having emerged from poverty, he has been thinking about how to give back to the society. In an interview with China News Network, he once emphasized: The richest man is just a false name; sharing wealth is meaningful.

And this also became an important perspective when looking back on his life.

  Image source: "Wahaha" WeChat public account

  Standing at the end of Zong Qinghou's life and looking back, his life with the age of 42 as the dividing line is just like what he said on the TV show with a mouthful of hangpu -

  "Looking back, I clearly saw a road in the gray mist. It was a very long road, and I walked it step by step."

Doing a risky thing, riding a three-wheeler at the age of 42 "changed my life against the odds"

  "On Labor Day in 1987, the weather was a bit sultry. At the age of 42, I rode my bicycle out of the house and prepared to do a risky thing - to borrow 140,000 yuan to take over a school-run enterprise that had been losing money for years. ." This incident that Zong Qinghou himself once defined as an "adventure" was the beginning of Wahaha.

  Wahaha's official website still displays a photo that records that time: among a group of laughing primary school students, Zong Qinghou rode a tricycle, carrying a box with "School Book" written on it, leaving behind a man wearing a The back view of a plain light brown undershirt.

  In the early days of starting a business, Zong Qinghou rode a tricycle to deliver school books.

Image source: "Wahaha" WeChat public account

  The sign of "School-run Enterprise Distribution Department of Shangcheng District, Hangzhou" has since been hung at No. 160 Qingtai Street. Including Zong Qinghou, there are three people, who started their business by selling soda pops, popsicles and stationery paper on a consignment basis.

This old six-story building later became Wahaha's headquarters. On days when he was not traveling for business, Zong Qinghou would come here to work at around seven o'clock every day, rain or shine for more than 30 years.

  The hard work soon brought about a turning point for Zong Qinghou at that time.

In 1988, Wahaha's first product, Wahaha Children's Nutritional Solution, became an instant hit with the slogan "Drink Wahaha, and eating will taste delicious". It quickly spread across the country and became the company's flagship product.

  This is inseparable from Zong Qinghou's boldness.

According to him, in order to open up the market, he spent only 210,000 yuan on advertising.

The advertisement was not in vain. From then on, the door of Zong Qinghou's small office was blocked by a group of people carrying money in woven bags to pick up goods. From this, the name "Wahaha" was born.

  In 1991, with the help of the Hangzhou Municipal Government, Zong Qinghou merged the old state-owned factory - Hangzhou Canned Food Factory with compensation for more than 80 million yuan, creating the miracle of "the small fish eating the big fish".

Photo courtesy of Wahaha

  Naturally, the bold Zong Qinghou would not just rest on this product.

In 1991, Hangzhou Wahaha Nutritional Food Factory, which had only about 100 employees, merged with Hangzhou Canned Food Factory, an old state-owned factory with more than 2,000 employees, for a fee.

Only three months later, the Hangzhou Can Factory, which originally suffered a loss of more than 40 million yuan, turned a profit. Wahaha's sales revenue and profits and taxes more than doubled that year. In the second year, sales revenue reached 400 million yuan and profits exceeded 70 million yuan.

  His original "production and marketing consortium" model has been a model for Chinese consumer goods companies to develop dealer channels for a long time.

Based on this, Wahaha has successively created hit products one after another such as AD Calcium Milk, Nutrition Express, Wahaha Purified Water and "Very Coke", which have made rapid progress in the vast Chinese consumer market and once became the leader in the domestic beverage market.

He has become the richest man in China three times, but his annual personal expenditure does not exceed 50,000.

  In a TV show, the host held a bottle of Wahaha mineral water and asked Zong Qinghou three questions: How many threads are there on the bottle mouth?

How many edges does the bottle have?

How many teeth does a bottle cap have?

  "Four turns of thread, eight ribs, and eighteen teeth." Zong Qinghou answered without hesitation. The host verified that all the answers were correct, and the audience burst into applause.

  Zhejiang businessmen are famous for their diligence, and Zong Qinghou's diligence is also famous among Zhejiang businessmen.

The meticulous grasp of products is closely related to Zong Qinghou’s decades of being at the forefront of the market.

Someone asked him if he was tired, but he enjoyed it: "Compared with when I was working, a bowl of rice cost two cents for pickled radish, I worked every day and went to bed when it got dark. Now I am so happy."

  With the smooth development of Wahaha, Zong Qinghou topped the Forbes China Rich List three times in 2010, 2012 and 2013, officially completing his transformation from a farmer to a business tycoon.

  Image source: CCTV Dialogue WeChat public account

  Different from the modern business world filled with various financial means, Zong Qinghou insisted, "If everyone goes into the business of 'making money,' I think this society will not be able to survive in the end." Wahaha has been in the business for a long time It insists that enterprises have no debt, no bonds, no bank loans, and rely entirely on endogenous growth of their own funds.

  Faced with a more complicated situation, will Wahaha, now in its thirties, have new considerations?

In August 2018, Zong Qinghou responded: "Wahaha currently does not have a definite listing plan. We are not short of money now. If there are projects that require large capital investment in the future, we will also consider listing. But once it is listed, it must be accountable to shareholders. Be responsible, you only raised money but did not increase the company's efficiency, it is too bad that shareholders cannot receive dividends."

  This attitude can also be reflected in Zong Qinghou's generosity towards his employees.

On February 2 this year, the Lunar New Year's Eve, Wahaha held a New Youth Youth League meeting at its Xiasha base in Hangzhou. Prior to this, employees had received year-end bonus notifications on their salary cards.

This year, Wahaha has distributed a total of about 600 million yuan in year-end bonuses to all employees.

  The difference is that Zong Qinghou's own life is simpler than that of many ordinary people. He is a "cloth shoe boss" who spends no more than 50,000 yuan a year.

A few years ago, a photo of netizens meeting Zong Qinghou in a second-class high-speed rail carriage was widely circulated. In the picture, he was teasing a child. It is said that the child's parents asked him to ask Zong Qinghou for AD calcium milk.

  "The so-called 'richest man' is just a false name. He can bring nothing and take nothing away." Zong Qinghou once said.

“Without reform and opening up, there would be no Wahaha.”

  "I am an ordinary person, a mortal who rose from the bottom. Fortunately, I was born in this great era." Zong Qinghou said this many times when talking about his success.

  In 1978, his mother retired early, and Zong Qinghou, who had worked in the countryside for 14 years, took up his job and returned to Hangzhou.

"In fact, after I returned to Hangzhou to work in 1978, news of reform and opening up had spread in Beijing, but the situation was still unclear. At that time, it was not clear that individuals could run businesses, and Wenzhou's 'Southern Zhejiang Model' had not yet emerged. Some people are doing a little business.”

  The founding meeting of Wahaha Food Group Co., Ltd. in 1991.

Image source: "Wahaha" WeChat public account

  But at that time, Zong Qinghou had already sensed that a change was brewing, and he had to be prepared for it.

"My only dream at that time was to have my own company and do what I wanted to do. I have been looking for such an opportunity."

  Amid the tide of the times, Wahaha's development path embodies Zong Qinghou's wisdom and thinking.

Especially in 1994, Wahaha established the joint marketing system, which laid the foundation for Wahaha Group's huge marketing network, and became an important reason why Wahaha's beverage products were sold nationwide.

  At that time, Wahaha signed joint sales agreements with nearly 8,000 dealers across the country. It only took a week for a new product to appear in stores in even remote villages.

This retail terminal system allows Wahaha's products, whether mineral water or Very Coke, to be quickly distributed across the country.

  This also makes Zong Qinghou known in the industry as "the entrepreneur who best understands the attributes of China's channels."

  In 2010, when talking about the success of Wahaha, Fan Luxian, the then president of Forbes Shanghai Branch, believed that Zong Qinghou’s corporate organization and management methods were deeply influenced by traditional management thinking. “Although Zong Qinghou is not a young entrepreneur, he wants to Entering new areas for development. Whether it is establishing a foothold locally or diversifying development, Wahaha is a company seeking change and is expected to develop quite well in the future."

  For a long time since then, Wahaha's development has been smooth by relying on down-to-earth business and product development.

The full outbreak of the "Dawa Controversy" in 2006 was a huge disturbance.

  This is called the largest international business war since the reform and opening up. The joint venture Fangdaneng, which originated from Wahaha, requested to acquire 51% of the equity of all non-joint venture companies except the joint venture company at a net asset price of 4 billion yuan. The involved It spanned 3 years and 29 lawsuits, and finally ended with Wahaha's overall victory.

  "Looking back now, the 'Dawa Controversy' finally shows that cooperation must be equal and abide by the spirit of the contract." Zong Qinghou said that many companies are afraid of going to foreign countries to litigate, but in fact, if you are justified, you can travel all over the world without fear of others. , sometimes the more afraid you are of others, the more others will bully you.

Later, the lawsuit was won not only domestically, but also abroad. This was a beautiful "self-defense counterattack" to defend the dignity and interests of national enterprises.

  In 2018, Zong Qinghou was selected into the list of "100 Outstanding Private Entrepreneurs in the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up" jointly recommended and publicized by the United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce.

  He said at the time that without reform and opening up, Wahaha would not be what it is today. Wahaha is an enterprise created by the times and the fruit of the flower of reform and opening up.

As private entrepreneurs, we must always listen to the party's words, continue to work hard, actively feed back society, and make new and greater contributions to the country's economic construction and social development, and to the early realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

Strive to become a "Zhang Jian-style" social entrepreneur

  What is Wahaha minus Zong Qinghou?

In an interview many years ago, Zong Fuli, Zong Qinghou’s daughter and current vice chairman and general manager of Wahaha Group, replied that it is equal to zero.

  Someone once asked Zong Qinghou when he could stop. He cheerfully said, "Let's wait until I'm 70. I can put my daughter on a horse and give her a ride, and I can relax for a while." That year was 2004, and Zong Qinghou was 59. age.

  Zong Qinghou, Chairman of Wahaha Group, and Zong Fuli, Vice Chairman and General Manager.

Image source: “Wahaha” WeChat public account

  "Keeping a business is more difficult than starting a business." In the ever-changing business world, Zong Qinghou found it difficult to let go after passing the agreed deadline.

However, preparations for management succession have already begun, including corporate process transformation, hierarchical authorization system, and efforts to outline Wahaha's blueprint for "de-Zong Qinghou."

  "We have always believed that real wealth is not material wealth, but spiritual wealth." Zong Qinghou previously said in an interview with a reporter from China News Service that he still has a lot to do.

  On December 20, 2023, the Economic Work Conference of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee was held in Hangzhou. Zong Qinghou, one of the representatives of private entrepreneurs invited to participate, said: “The road under our feet is getting wider and wider, and the sense of mission in my heart is getting stronger and stronger. . Participants in this year’s conference especially felt the atmosphere of ‘time waits for no one’ in the development of private enterprises.”

  Besides Wahaha, what else does Zong Qinghou want to do?

In an exclusive interview in 2013, he said, "Solving the employment problem and driving more people to get rich is the greatest charity. Real charity is to help disadvantaged groups get rich, which is the most fundamental."

  "I was also a poor person before, but it was the party and the government that gave me the opportunity to get rich through hard work. We should drink water and remember its source, follow the party, run a good business, pay more taxes, create more jobs, and do more charity." At a gathering of Zhejiang businessmen. On the forum, Zong Qinghou said deeply.

  This seems to be Zong Qinghou’s summary of his ups and downs in life for more than 70 years, and also his advice to the new generation of Zhejiang businessmen.

Like many of China's first self-made private entrepreneurs, Zong Qinghou has regarded his career as a part of his life. "We people don't have time to enjoy it. We are afraid that once we enjoy it and seek comfort, the enterprise will collapse." "

  While they have spare energy, Zong Qinghou believes that entrepreneurs should do more charity and strive to become "Zhang Jian-style" social entrepreneurs to jointly create a better society and "let the people have good education, good doctors, and Having a place to live is the focus of the party and the country’s promotion, and it is also the direction of entrepreneurs’ efforts.”

  He continued on this road until he was 79 years old.

  Data map.

Photo by Du Yang issued by China News Service

  "I was probably quite handsome when I was young, so there were more people who liked me." In a TV show six years ago, Zong Qinghou calmly said this and took a sip of water. , the contrasting speech attracted laughter and applause from the audience.

  In the same program, he shared a passage from "Eighty Years" to young people who are studying and starting their own businesses.

Now it seems like a projection and a proof.

  "I have become a like-minded person of Tao Yuanming. I admire one of his poems very much: In the great waves, I am neither happy nor afraid. I have to do everything I have to do, and there is no need to worry about it. This is what I hold now spirit, and step forward boldly. Whenever possible, I will do something that is beneficial to the country and others."

  The "arrogant" Zong Qinghou has now completed his life.

What remains in the memory of future generations may be the red and green figure on the AD calcium milk packaging, or the image in the honor column wearing a crisp suit, or perhaps the back figure wearing a simple light brown undershirt.